Saturday, July 11, 2020


7/5/20 alstroemeria in our backyard

I’m not much of a nature journaler or even a garden sketcher. Perhaps if I had a nicer garden, I would be both, but that would require, you know – gardening. My idea of nature journaling and garden sketching is this: Sitting in 68-degree shade to sketch the alstroemeria in our backyard (incorrectly identified as freesia in my sketchbook). Ahhh . . . summer at last! Two more months of this, please!

Technical notes: I mentioned in my review of the Stillman& Birn square-format sketchbook that it’s too large for easy carrying or use while standing, so I can’t take it urban sketching. For this alstroemeria page, though, it was ideal. I had dragged a kitchen chair out there, so I could easily support the book on my lap. The square format gave me just enough additional page real estate for a montage like this.

I typically wouldn’t use traditional (wax-based) colored pencils on location because watercolor pencils are more efficient for the way I like to sketch. This beautiful, leisurely Sunday afternoon, however, was an ideal opportunity to haul my Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils outside along with a good crank sharpener (which is essential with such soft cores as these).

Ahhh.... summer at last!
Speaking of Luminance pencils, I just heard that Cd’A has released 24 new colors in the Luminance line. As I picked out colors for the freesia leaves, I noted significant holes among the greens in the original line. I’d welcome a few more greens, and more yellows wouldn’t hurt, either. The strange part is that 20 of the 24 new colors are being issued as a new “portrait” assortment, which doesn’t make much sense if you look at the included hues. The remaining four new colors are available open stock, which also doesn’t make sense. Why not just put all 24 in a new set? I’ll wait until they are all available open stock in the US and just buy the colors I want.

I’ll tell you what really excites me about this news: Maybe it means that Caran d’Ache will soon be adding some new colors to the Museum Aquarelle line! It has some serious gaps, too. Though my excitement is based purely on conjecture, keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, July 10, 2020


6/30/20 male goldfinch

A bright yellow male goldfinch was at our feeder, but I could see that something was wrong. Injured or sick, he rested there for long periods without eating and seemed to have difficulty perching. The black chevron pattern that should have shown on his wings looked disheveled. Taking a seed or two now and then, he returned daily for a few days. Then returned no more.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Blue Spruce

7/3/20 Seattle Lamp First Presbyterian Church,
Northgate neighborhood

Whenever I drive home from the Northgate post office, I pass the Seattle Lamp First Presbyterian Church. It’s hard to miss its prominent red cross, but equally eye-catching is the huge blue spruce in front of it.

One overcast day, the ideal parking spot was open, so I jumped at the chance. My spritzer got away from me a bit, so the church front looks a little dirty, but I’m happy to have finally captured the spruce.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Urban Rhythm

7/3/20 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Occasionally I am asked why I include unsightly utility poles and wires when it would be so easy to omit them from otherwise “pretty” sketches. My first thought is that, as an urban sketcher, I want to be “truthful to the scenes I witness,” and a street scene in Seattle without poles and wires would be suspect.

The larger reason, however, is that they lend a compelling rhythm, pattern and texture to a composition. Sometimes they are the composition.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Sketcher’s Worst Nightmare

3/28/19 Rainier Tower
(Shown in this post are sketches I've made with
Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Artists Pens, which I
just learned have been discontinued.)

Imagine this: sketcher’s all-time favorite art material – the one they have used every day for years, discovering its unique qualities, working out its quirks, learning its idiosyncrasies, developing techniques and effects with – has been discontinued by the manufacturer! The worst nightmare ever! (Don’t worry, it’s not mine; if it were, I wouldn’t be writing this  I would be heavily sedated.)

Although I have used Faber-Castell Pitt Big Brush Artist Pens off and on for years, especially for tonal work, it’s been a while since I bought any (except for the white one, which I remember using on my last viaduct sketch before it was demolished). I was unaware until a few days ago that they had been discontinued a while back (only the Big Brush size; the standard brush size is still available). I learned about it when Don Colley, who is well known for his stunning drawings with these pens, mentioned it on Instagram. In demos I’ve attended and workshops I’ve taken, I’ve seen Don do amazing things with these pens and his own fingers as tools – techniques he has been developing and refining for years. It takes a long time to master any medium, even markers like Pitt pens (which are not unique in the art supply world but are the best of their type). When he said his favorite pens had been discontinued, I felt his pain like a stab in my own heart!

6/21/18 Maple Leaf neighborhood
If I heard that Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles were being discontinued, I know what I’d do as soon as I recovered from passing out: I’d hoard a lifetime supply! (Never mind that I may already have that in my “normal” stash now.)

Roz Stendahl, a fount of art-practice wisdom, always advises her followers not to get too attached to any one particular supplier, paper, paint, whatever. Companies go out of business; they change a production method or location (Prismacolor, I’m looking at you), and the quality declines; a sketchbook paper changes (Moleskine users go on and on about this one); a product line is discontinued. It happens. She advocates neither hoarding in the event of such crisis nor basing one’s entire art practice around a specific art material or tool. Instead, she encourages us to be flexible and experiment with a variety of products so that we can happily continue making art with whatever materials we have.

Pitt Big Brush Pens are no more.

She’s right, of course. If I somehow found myself on Gilligan’s Island without my Museum Aquarelles or even my Supracolors (talk about a nightmare!), I would draw with sticks in the sand or smear seagull poop onto coconut shells. Forced to be innovative, I might even develop stunning techniques with these new media and tools.

Still, we’re all creatures of habit. Familiar products are comforting and predictable. Seeking and identifying our “favorites” must be an instinctive behavior of human animals (right up there with collecting pencils). I have never, ever met a sketcher who said they were indifferent about their art materials!

How, then, does a pragmatic sketcher balance the impulse to hoard with the wisdom of being flexible and experimental? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep stashing away extra Museum Aquarelles, just in case. And in the meantime, I’ll occasionally bring out other materials I haven’t used in a while to reacquaint myself with them. And of course, I’ll continue to try new things, because you never know when you’ll discover your next favorite art material.

Carry on.

My preciousssss.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Porch of July

7/4/20 Live video stream of Kristen and Mark

My niece Kristen Koyama and her husband Mark Rooney gave a taiko performance Saturday afternoon during Porch of July, a community music festival in their Maryland neighborhood. The two long-time taiko musicians set up their driveway with a makeshift stage and put out folding chairs for safely distanced and masked audience members. Although I would have loved to have seen them in person, apparently it was sweltering that day, so I was perfectly happy to enjoy their dynamic performance on a live video stream. They were joined later by other equally energetic musicians.
7/4/20 Rowan Corbett
Although I’ve sketched live taiko performances many times, I had never caught this couple drumming together in my sketchbook. In fact, this was the first time since their wedding eight years ago that I’d seen them perform together, so it was especially fun.

I also sketched vocalist Rowan Corbett, another act during Porch of July. No, he isn’t wearing headphones. . . I just had difficulty capturing the shape of his shaved head. (Sorry, Rowan.)

Mark and Kristen

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Not Proud

I didn’t do or sketch anything yesterday to observe our country’s birthday. Indeed, I have lately been so ashamed, disgusted and outraged by what some fellow Americans are doing that it’s very hard to be proud. Yes, they are a small minority, and most people are still kind, generous and considerate. But I did not expect to see so much ugliness to be revealed in the face of a global health crisis (the story linked above is only one recent example).

Someday, those of us who survive will heal and move on. I certainly hope to. But I will not quickly forget my stunning disappointment in other Americans that I have experienced since March.

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